Never Easy, Always Necessary
Dwight L. Ford
In this book, Dwight bids the Church, pastors, and communities to rediscover their calling and mission by provoking critical reflection of our present models so as to resurrect new paradigms that will bring positive and progressive transformation for us all!
INTRODUCTION: BUILDING ON A STRONG FOUNDATION
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."
Looking back, I realize that my mother and father provided the foundation for my understanding of ministry. I saw my mother, a provider of early childhood education and a Parent Teacher Liaison at a poverty-stricken inner-city elementary school, serve as an agent of change and hope. I witnessed firsthand how she used her position and reputation to leverage services and resources for those most in need. Additionally, every Tuesday evening, she ministered to people, going into the housing projects and conducting Bible studies in homes and community centers. She held these studies for domestically abused women, recently released female inmates, prostitutes, drug addicts, and young teenage mothers and their children. She did this week in and week out.
Likewise, my father, a universal communicator, shared the love of Jesus throughout the neighborhood through daily interaction and redemptive intervention in the lives of everyday people: mailman, alderman, local gang members, and alcoholics and drug addicts. He was adept at affording each the dignity of being human and the hope of a new life. He possessed the quality to comfort the distressed, and with unconditional love, he challenged the daily living and decisions made by people in dire circumstances. Both parents served God, our local church, and our community with vigor, unafraid to place their lives in the paths of people, who would perhaps never attend a worship service. I am proud to say that both of them continue their ministry to this day.
Although my parents laid my foundation of service, the ministry of pulpits, platforms, and pavement was acquired later in an experiential sense through my service at the Greater Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. However, it was not until my graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School that I gained the theological and theoretical framework. I discovered a historical biblical structure and phraseology to encompass my thoughts and experience. Additionally, I was able to discern that a person and the church could embody all three expressions of ministry (pulpits, platforms, and pavement) and employ them as a whole. This was made manifest through the life and ministry of individuals like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Reverdy Ransom. Malcolm X, although a Muslim, most notably demonstrated this salvific proclamation through his work in ghettos and among the formally incarcerated. His life and work deserve a rigorous mining for applicable methodologies for the present day. Without question, I have gathered the essential qualities of the ministry of pulpits, platforms, and pavement from many. However, no one person has impacted my understanding more than the Reverend Martin Luther king, Jr. Therefore, throughout this book, I will refer to the embodiment of the triad ministry in his life and legacy.
Other influences have come from my study of contemporary pastors, who utilize the power of the modern church to transform communities. Included among these pastors are men like Rev. Calvin Butts and Abyssinian Baptist Church, Rev. Charles Adams and Concord Baptist Church, Rev. James Meeks and Salem Baptist Church, Rev. kirbyjon Caldwell and Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Rev. Floyd Flake and Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop Charles Blake and West Angeles Church of God in Christ, as well as various storefront and small rural churches that work under extreme circumstances to bring hope and transformation. As one will notice, the list of my research crosses denominational lines and geography, being indicative of the fact and my belief that no one single person or denomination has a monopoly on being an agent of transformation. If authentic personal and lasting communal transformation is to occur, it must involve collective efforts from various agents and agencies of hope. In fact, my personal journey to the pulpit has included service in Pentecostal, Baptist, and Non-Denominational churches. Therefore, I hold licenses and ordinations in both Baptist and Pentecostal denominations. I learned the importance of preaching across denominational lines in Protestant chapel services as a Protestant lay reader during my six-year tenure in the Marine Corps. Therefore, I approach cross-denominational service, having gathered ecumenical principles that are also transferable across the denominational landscape. My understanding of pulpits, platforms, and pavement has been thoroughly influenced by a multiplicity of sources to include traditional and non-traditional. Thus, the definitions and typologies are a result of that understanding and experience.
The term "pulpit," for all practical and theological purposes in this book, has significance in the physical location and its theological extension. As a locality, it designates where salvific proclamation is rendered. It is fundamentally an elevated space, located in the sanctuary of churches and is set aside for sacred use. It is from this post that the preacher assumes the posture of proclamation primarily to a sectarian audience. The pulpit is in many ways symbolic and can be utilized to describe the preacher’s assignment of transferring hallowed information, direction, inspiration, and meaningful utterances, in an effort to holistically develop devotees. Indeed, it is from the pulpit that theological information is rendered with the expectation of life application. The pulpit informs one’s anthropological outlook and ultimately enlightens a person’s sociological concern, thereby, encouraging listeners to progress, moving from theory into inspired praxis. Because the pulpit is directive discourse for life outside the sacred walls and padded pews, let us now turn our attention to the category of platforms, as a space available for implementation and action.
Unlike the pulpit, where discourse is primarily rendered to a sectarian audience, the term "platform" refers to the space from which a preacher presents a public or what I call platform theology. I base my understanding of platform theology on an interpretation of the definition by the distinguished President of Morehouse College, Dr. Robert Franklin. He defines public theology as the presentation of a person’s "understanding of God, along with their ethical principles and values to the public for scrutiny, discussion, and possible acceptance." This theology seeks to address the various socio-political dilemmas from a position of Christian ethics for the betterment of all humanity. Platform theologians primarily address audiences outside the confines of the stained glass and render discourse on socio-political responsibility and the lack thereof. Platform theologians engage politics and advance full citizenship from a biblical and prophetic position. As one begins to engage the political sphere, one does so with the hope of influencing public policy and raising the consciousness of the world toward those who are made invisible through indifference. Thus, the platform further presses the need for active participation on the pavement of life.
The category of "pavement" symbolizes the actual walking out of ministry, that is to say the praxis of theology in and among "the least of these" and underserved populations of the world. Pavement theology seeks to embody and employ the ethical teaching of Jesus in service to society’s forgotten, the human undertow. Their very presence is an indictment to the world’s lack of authentic charity and revolutionary love. Pavement theology challenges the preacher of the day to typify the redemptive work of Christ-centered action. Pavement preachers make sacrificial and unmerited love attainable and immediately accessible to all who may come in contact with them through practical and tangible methods.
In Johannine language, it is the process and realization of the "Word becoming flesh and dwelling among people." This dwelling takes place among groups of the "population that do not find a comfortable place in the economic and political order," I would add, the established religious order as well. At this point, the work of criminologist Steven Spitzer is helpful. Spitzer uses the term "social junk" to refer to people "whose lives are worn down and nearly destroyed, barely holding together. These include the mentally ill, drug addicts, lonely and frayed drifters, alcoholics, and cast-off, impoverished elders."
It is not by happenstance that Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry visiting the outcasts, diseased, rejected, and downtrodden. Jesus ministered to those who were regulated to the so-called trash heaps of life. Therefore, this is the mission of the pavement theologian: transforming the human existence through acknowledgment and consideration of all. This is to say, it is an exhaustive effort through Christ-centered love to accept one as being fully human, valuable, and needed, regardless of one’s external circumstantial predicament.
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